Mismatched sisters in thriller comedy: great fun with male murder

Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite releases "My Sister, the Serial Killer," her first novel.

Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite has written a fast-paced thriller comedy Photo: © Studio 24

They couldn’t be more different: Korede, the tall, not very pretty, but smart and extremely reliable big sister. And the petite, second-born Ayoola, who seems to consist entirely of feminine charms and attracts men like light attracts moths. She also seems almost as deadly.

At the beginning of the novel, Ayoola’s third former lover has just been killed by her interference; and first-person narrator Korede, as her loyal protector, helps her dispose of the body, as usual. She then Googles on the Internet and learns that if you commit three murders or more, you are considered a serial killer. The beloved little sister, a serial killer! What is Korede to do?

Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite, born in 1988 and largely British-socialized, releases her first novel with this fast-paced black thriller cookie-cutter. She confessed to the Guardian that there was a disconnect between her writing craft, which is quite bloody here, and her faith. Braithwaite is a Christian and an active churchgoer; in the epilogue to the novel, she thanks God first and foremost.

She says she didn’t even want to tell her grandmother the full title, and her father asked why she had to write a story without any hope. The author takes these reservations seriously, but has made a temporary peace with her ambivalent inspiration: "People have told me that they had to laugh while reading. I like that I brought some joy into the world in this way."

Oyinkan Braithwaite: "My Sister, the Serial Killer." Translated from English by Yasemin Dincer. Blumenbar, Berlin 2020. 240 pages, 20 euros.

This little novel is great fun

The fact is that both points of view are true in their own way: This little novel is great fun. But only because it aggressively refuses to take seriously the underlying trauma that very gradually comes to light: for both sisters, it seems impossible to experience genuine personal happiness with a man. Korede, who works as a nurse, is a little in love with a nice doctor in her clinic, but has to experience that his friendly feelings for her no longer play a role as soon as he happens to catch sight of Ayoola one day.

Torn between conflicting feelings and impulses, the big sister can do nothing but let fate take its course. Caught in her very special dilemma, Korede cannot confide in any living person. In her distress, she begins to tell all her problems to a coma patient whose family is already thinking about turning off the life-support equipment. One day, however, a miracle happens: the man wakes up – and can even remember everything!

Then again, perhaps not quite what one expected happens. At the same time, however, one understands more and more why it happens. In fragments, Kordee’s stories uncover a fateful past.

Hard-hitting reckoning with masculinity

It also becomes apparent that it is not quite true when Oyinkan Braithwaite says she does not claim to write about Nigerian reality, the country is far too complex for that and her own experience is too limited. In any case, under the guise of this masterfully succinctly composed comedy, she has hidden a hard-hitting reckoning with a toxic African variant of masculinity.

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